Toothache can range from mildly annoying to absolutely excruciating. There are a number of causes of toothache ranging from abscesses to ulcers.
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitivity to hot or cold food
- Swelling around the tooth
- Swelling of the jaw
What causes toothache?
The most common cause of toothache, or pain in the region of the jaws and face, is inflammation of the pulp of the tooth known as ‘pulpitis’. The pulp of the tooth is the soft, delicate tissue inside the teeth which is made up of nerves and blood vessels. The tissue is surrounded by layers of hard tissues called dentine, which is further protected by enamel. The pulp becomes painful if it becomes infected causing inflammation (pulpitis). If something sweet, hot or cold comes into contact with the infected tooth you’ll experience a short, sharp pain. Toothaches can be caused by dental decay (caries) which cause holes (cavities) to form in the hard surface of the tooth, or due to cracks (fractures) in the teeth, or as a result of dental treatment (perhaps where a filling has become loose), or due to receding gums where the gums have shrunk back to expose part of the tooth root. As well as pulpitis, other common causes of tooth pain include an abscess where pus has formed due to a bacterial infection, or due to wisdom teeth painfully breaking through the gums.
How is toothache treated?
- If you have toothache, it is important that you see your dentist as soon as possible. Treatment for toothache depends on what is causing the problem. If the pain is caused by tooth decay or due to a broken filling, the dentist will take out the decayed area and insert (or replace) a filling.
- If the pulp of your tooth is infected, you may need to have root canal treatment. Your dentist (or a specialist called an endodontist) takes out the decayed pulp, fills the space with a paste, and covers the tooth with a crown to protect and seal it.
- If the tooth is impacted (wedged between another tooth and the jaw), it may need to be removed.
- While awaiting a dental appointment, over-the-counter painkillers can be used such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin (aspirin is not suitable for children under 16).
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
- Avoid very hot or cold foods as they can make the pain worse.
- Prevent toothache with good oral hygiene. This includes: limiting sugary foods and drinks, brushing your teeth twice daily using a toothpaste containing fluoride and using dental floss to clean between your teeth. Visit your dentist at least once a year and get your teeth cleaned by a hygienist.